The Philadelphia Phillies organization appears content to sacrifice another season of “tanking”, losing in the short-term, in hopes of longer term success.
Some around Major League Baseball have characterized their approach in just that manner, as intentional “tanking”, similar to the approach being utilized for years now, without much success to this point, by the local Philadelphia 76ers franchise in the NBA.
There is a school of thought that, if you are a professional organization in the top competitive league in the business, that you should be doing everything possible to win every year. Anything short of that type of organizational commitment is, to those people, considered tanking, or intentionally putting an inferior product on to the field.
In an ESPN Insider blog posting today titled “Yes, Virginia, There is Tanking in Baseball“, Buster Olney built on an idea that he posited in his posting for the same blog on Monday. Olney believes that intentional tanking of seasons by multiple MLB teams will be one of the top story lines in the game for the 2016 campaign.
While positing that it is possible that as few as three, but as many as seven or eight MLB teams, including the Phillies, may head into the season “designed for failure“, he also states: “Under the current rules, their strategy is excellent. Repeat: Under the current rules, the Phillies are doing exactly what they should do.”
I believe that Olney is correctly assessing the Phillies current situation, and has properly described their direction as “excellent” and “exactly what they should do.”
He has also lamented on numerous occasions in the past, as has every reasonable, intelligent source that reports on the team, that the Phillies were woefully slow in turning over the previous era’s excellent roster, and incredibly misguided in some of the contracts they previously handed out to multiple aging players.
While it may be hard for some to swallow, the Phillies are indeed tanking the 2016 season.
More from That Balls Outta Here
In a January 2014 piece by Mark Deeks at SBNation on this very situation occurring in the NBA, he did an outstanding job in perfectly defining what the term means in a sporting scenario. In the piece, Deeks defines it as follows:
““Tanking,” as we are to understand it, is a team’s intent to do less than everything it can to win. It is a concerted effort over several months (and perhaps several seasons) by a team to deliberately not be as good as it could be. It is considered cheap, disingenuous and dishonest, the byproduct of a flawed system where a team can be rewarded for being bad and where deliberately losing is thereby a strategic decision.”
If there is any Phillies scribe or fan who thinks that the club did everything that it could do to win in the 2015 season, or has done everything that it could do to win in the 2016 season, then I would question that writer’s voracity or fan’s evaulation abilities.
The Phillies have the financial muscle and salary flexibility to put a far more experienced and talented product on the field in 2016 and over the following handful of seasons, if they were so inclined.
They could have made a strong effort to sign a couple of major free agents, added in a couple more moderate-priced free agents, spent another $70-80 million annually in salary, and likely won more games while possibly having a realistic shot at a playoff berth, depending on their having made the right calls on the players they signed.
Instead, the Phillies have chosen another path, down a potentially more secure long-term direction. They are choosing to build from within, propping the inexperienced players up with a few carefully selected, moderately priced, short-term commitment players.
Phillies brass, in the form of the new power trio of ownership leader John Middleton, club president Andy MacPhail, and general manager Matt Klentak, has stated that when they feel the time is right, there will be no holding back the club from spending in free agency.
However, they have been just as clear, in both words and in actions this off-season, that the time is not now for such spending. By committing the 2016 pitching rotation to a handful of players with a year or less of MLB experience, or who have experience, but only modest talents such as Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, they have sealed the club’s fate on another year of losing.
It would be my contention that the starting pitching, though mid-level by MLB talent and experience standards, will actually be improved in 2016. However, the starting lineup continues to feature few players who strike fear into the hearts of the opposition.
Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis are likely to man the middle infield, at least to begin the season. Moderate talents in Peter Bourjos and Aaron Altherr are likely to make up 2/3 of your starting outfield most nights. Ryan Howard can still hit righties, Darin Ruf punishes lefties, so if used appropriately, the 1st base position should not be a weakness.
A batting order that holds out a pair of second year players in Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, as good as these players can be at their best, as their premier offensive talents is not a lineup that is built to win in the coming season.
As Olney said, under current baseball rules, the organization is approaching this the right way for now. They will continue to bring in talented young players at both the Major and Minor League Baseball levels. But they will not be spending in free agency, or trading away young talent for veterans, to win in the 2016 campaign. It just simply is not happening.
So while you, and perhaps even they, may dislike the term, the Philadelphia Phillies are indeed tanking the 2016 season. Really, it is at least the 2nd consecutive season that it is happening.
However, the good news is, their young talent appears to be for real, and their financial assets will only get stronger following the 2016 season as the Howard and Ruiz contracts are bought out, and the Comcast cable TV deal kicks in for them.
There will hopefully be a great deal to root for in 2016, with the continued development of Franco, Herrera, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and others. There is also the anticipated promotion of top prospects such as shortstop J.P. Crawford and some of the younger pitchers as the season moves along.
Do you think that a 10-win improvement would mean that the team didn’t “tank” the 2016 season? I’m sorry, but while that would indeed be a measurable improvement, it would still result in a record of 73-89. That is still a losing team. And that is probably a best-case scenario.
That is what the Phillies are selling you for now. Buster Olney is right in the end, the Phillies are indeed tanking, not trying their best to win in the 2016 season. Let’s just hope it is only for one more season.